Assessing U.S. Chances In The 'Glorious World Cup'

Soccer kicks off this week with a match between Brazil and Croatia. Authors of The Glorious World Cup, Alan Black and David Henry Sterry, speak to NPR's Rachel Martin about the most-watched sport in the world.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The World Cup kicks off this week, in a match between Brazil and Croatian in Sao Paulo. Ratings for the world's most widely-viewed sporting event are projected to be the highest ever. We need a preview of the tournament. So we have called up Alan Black and David Henry Sterry. Together, they wrote the book "The Glorious World Cup." So they know what they're talking about. Thanks so much for being with us, you two.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: Great to be here.

ALAN BLACK: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: All right, well, let's start off our conversation talking about Team USA. Power forward, overall soccer superstar, Landon Donovan is not going to be playing in the World Cup. Is this going to hurt the American's chances?

BLACK: Well, I think the Donovan case comes down to, when you annoy the boss, then the boss is not going to take you to the show.

MARTIN: We should say, this is one of the reasons that U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann decided to cut him from the team, essentially.

STERRY: First of all, he just took time off. And, when you're in world class soccer, you don't tell your German coach you're going to find yourself. You just don't do that. And he came back. And he was out of shape. But I think, it was a gigantic mistake on the part of Klinsmann because there are so few Americans who have the experience of scoring a World Cup goal, in the left minutes of the game, that send your team to victory.

MARTIN: So what does that mean for Team USA, Alan? Are they in the position to do well in this World Cup or are expectations pretty low?

BLACK: Well, the grip is very difficult. It's called the grip of death. I always wondered what the grip of life was.

(LAUGHTER)

STERRY: I want the grip of life.

BLACK: But you always need a bit of luck in the game of soccer. And the U.S., if they can just trade a little the cards in, then we have a chance.

MARTIN: Can we talk about England? This is...

BLACK: Why?

STERRY: Why?

(LAUGHTER)

BLACK: Just kidding.

MARTIN: I mean, this is a football powerhouse. This is a country that's produced a lot of huge soccer stars, internationally. But they haven't won a World Cup since they hosted in 1966.

BLACK: Well, let me clear my conscience with my English brother.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACK: Usually, the English build up the whole World Cup hysteria. And it never pays off. So this time around, there's been a much more level-headed approach, a modesty.

STERRY: They always have incredibly talented players. But just when they should be playing their best, that's when they tend to play their worst. And if they can sort of overcome this existential malaise, they actually could, you know, go to the semi-finals. They actually could.

MARTIN: I'm going to pivot now to the issue of cheating because, recently, the New York Times got a hold of an internal FIFA report that said there's some match-fixing that took place, specifically in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. How do these accusations taint - do they taint the current tournament?

BLACK: Well, it is a major problem. And the question is, is FIFA need to look at its internal mechanisms to come up with some sort of independent board, which can examine some of the contracts in the way that the World Cup is awarded and everything else connected with FIFA.

So I think FIFA in itself, though, is an organization that, you know, should - advocating a certain amount of positivity for world football. Without it, we wouldn't be having the World Cup. There's no doubt about that. So I think we need to look at it in a way that we can reform it as opposed to just constantly putting it up there on the coconut shine, throwing coconuts at it.

MARTIN: Because nevertheless, this is happening. Millions of people will be tuning in, if not flying to Brazil to watch these games in person. Who's going to win? Realistically, who has the best shot?

BLACK: I always root for the Italians 'cause the Italians always manage to bring the opera right at the end of the tournament.

(LAUGHTER)

STERRY: Yes, they do, they do, they do. Well, I don't think there's really any question in almost everybody's mind that Brazil is probably going to win. It's in their home country. I was just doing some research. I think, Nostradamus originally predicted that if Brazil loses when they're the host, it will be the first sign of the Apocalypse. So if they don't win, we're all essentially going to die.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So we all need to root for Brazil.

STERRY: We have to, yes.

MARTIN: Alan Black and David Henry Sterry. They co-authored the book "The Glorious World Cup." Thanks to you both. Happy game-watching.

STERRY: Thanks so much.

BLACK: Thanks so much.

STERRY: Thanks very much.

BLACK: Thanks for having us. Enjoy the World Cup.

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